publication date: Mar. 18, 2020
ASCO’s Response to COVID-19
Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FSCT, FASCO
Executive Vice President, Chief Medical Officer
American Society of Clinical Oncology
This story is part of The Cancer Letter’s ongoing coverage of COVID-19’s impact on oncology. A full list of our coverage, as well as the latest meeting cancellations, is available here.
The worldwide spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) presents unprecedented challenges to the cancer care delivery system.
Our patients are already dealing with a life-threatening illness and are particularly vulnerable to this viral infection, which can be even more deadly for them. Further, as restrictions in daily movement and social distancing take hold, vulnerable patients may be disconnected from friends, family or other support they need as they manage their cancer.
As providers, we rely on evidence and experience when treating patients but now we face uncertainty. There are limited data to guide us in the specific management of cancer patients confronting COVID-19 and, at present, we have no population-level guidance regarding acceptable or appropriate adjustments of treatment and practice operations that both ensure the best outcome for our patients and protect the safety of our colleagues and staff.
As normal life is dramatically changed, we are all feeling anxious about the extreme economic challenges we face, but these issues are perhaps even more difficult for our patients, many of whom are now facing interruptions in jobs or income for themselves and their caregivers.
As we confront this extraordinary situation, the health and safety of members, staff, and individuals with cancer—in fact, the entire cancer community—is ASCO’s highest priority.
ASCO has been actively monitoring and responding to the pandemic to ensure that accurate information is readily available to clinicians and their patients. Recognizing that this is a rapidly evolving situation and that limited oncology-specific, evidence-based information is available, we are committed to sharing what is known and acknowledging what is unknown so that the most informed decisions can be made.
To help guide oncology professionals as they deal with the impact of coronavirus on both their patients and staff, ASCO has collated questions from its members, posted responses at asco.org and assembled a compendium of additional resources we hope will be helpful as the virus spreads and the disease unfolds. We continue to receive additional questions regarding clinical care and we are updating our FAQs on a regular basis.
We hope this information is helpful even when it merely confirms that there are no certain answers to many questions. Our answers are based on the best available information we identify in the literature, guidance from public health authorities, and input received from oncology and infectious disease experts.
That said, any guidance we share should not be considered specific treatment recommendations for individual patients which can only be made by the oncologist and patient together after considering the goals of treatment, the clinical status of the patient, and the risks versus benefits of deviating from established cancer treatment programs.
For patients, we have posted a blog by Dr. Merry Jennifer Markham, chair of ASCO’s Cancer Communications Committee. This can be found on Cancer.Net, ASCO’s patient information website, and it provides practical guidance to help patients reduce their risk of exposure, better understand COVID-19 symptoms, and locate additional information.
This blog is available both in English and Spanish. Additional blog posts addressing patient questions will be posted as new questions are received and new information becomes available.
Turning for a moment to ASCO’s Annual Meeting, we are committed to delivering the latest cancer research to the global community in 2020 as we do every year. But we put the safety and well-being of our members, attendees and their patients first and if we determine that our meeting can’t be held safely, we are planning alternate virtual approaches that will allow us to effectively fulfill our mission.
Regardless of format, ASCO will host a robust educational and scientific program, and abstracts will be published online and in the Journal of Clinical Oncology as always.
A final decision on the meeting format will be made soon to allow participants adequate time to adjust their plans.
Finally, I want to say that, as stressful as these times are, it is heartening to see ASCO members, volunteers and care teams throughout the oncology community working together to ensure that we continue the critical work of conquering cancer as we also confront this extraordinary health care crisis.
We have taken decisive steps to ensure our work continues so that we are in the best position to support our members at this challenging time but there will be much more to do in the weeks ahead.
We will continue to regularly reach out to ASCO members and disseminate the most current information through all relevant ASCO communications channels, including email blasts, social media channels and asco.org.
We appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation as we navigate these uncharted waters. Ours is a community that stands out in its ability to support patients—and each other—during some of life’s most difficult times. We urge every person to do what you can to sustain that spirit during this time of need.